Writing system, Basic terminology

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In the examination of individual scripts, the study of writing systems has developed along partially independent lines. Thus, the terminology employed differs somewhat from field to field.

The generic term text refers to an instance of written material. The act of composing and recording a text may be referred to as writing, and the act of viewing and interpreting the text as reading. Orthography refers to the method and rules of observed writing structure (literal meaning, "correct writing"), and particularly for alphabetic systems, includes the concept of spelling.

A grapheme is a specific base unit of a writing system. Graphemes are the minimally significant elements which taken together comprise the set of "building blocks" out of which texts made up of one or more writing systems may be constructed, along with rules of correspondence and use. The concept is similar to that of the phoneme used in the study of spoken languages. For example, in the Latin-based writing system of standard contemporary English, examples of graphemes include the majuscule and minuscule forms of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet (corresponding to various phonemes), marks of punctuation (mostly non-phonemic), and a few other symbols such as those for numerals (logograms for numbers).

An individual grapheme may be represented in a wide variety of ways, where each variation is visually distinct in some regard, but all are interpreted as representing the "same" grapheme. These individual variations are known as allographs of a grapheme (compare with the term allophone used in linguistic study). For example, the minuscule letter a has different allographs when written as a cursive, block, or typed letter. The choice of a particular allograph may be influenced by the medium used, the writing instrument, the stylistic choice of the writer, the preceding and following graphemes in the text, the time available for writing, the intended audience, and the largely unconscious features of an individual's handwriting.

The terms glyph, sign and character are sometimes used to refer to a grapheme. Common usage varies from discipline to discipline; compare cuneiform sign, Maya glyph, Chinese character. The glyphs of most writing systems are made up of lines (or strokes) and are therefore called linear, but there are glyphs in non-linear writing systems made up of other types of marks, such as Cuneiform and Braille.

Writing systems are conceptual systems, as are the languages to which they refer. Writing systems may be regarded as complete according to the extent to which they are able to represent all that may be expressed in the spoken language.

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External Links

  • WikipediaWriting Systems ResearchArch Chinese (Traditional & Simplified)decodeunicodeAfrican writing systemsOmniglot: The Online Encyclopedia of Writing Systems and Languages

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